Monthly Archives: February 2015

Alice’s obituary

SONY DSC WEIHS, Alice Elizabeth (nee Fritsch)
Passed away peacefully on February 18, 2015, at the age of 93, cared for by her son Ronald Weihs and his partner Judith Sandiford at their home in Hamilton, ON. Her son Frederick Weihs and her sister Rosemarie Herrell were of great support during her final months.

Alice was born on August 27, 1921 in Bačka Palanka. Alice’s sister Madeleine was born a year later. Her mother Rosina (Eich) and her father Louis Fritsch were part of the Donauschwaben community in Yugoslavia (now Serbia). Louis was a miller on a floating flour mill on the Danube River.

The family emigrated to Toronto during the Great Depression, where siblings Joseph and Rosemarie were born. Alice went to St. Patrick’s School and Jarvis Collegiate in Toronto. The family became active in the movement for social and economic justice. Alice, still in her teens, was a shop-floor organizer for the United Electrical Workers Union.

In 1944, Alice married Harry Weihs. The family lived in Scarborough and Don Mills, and were active in the Don Heights Unitarian Church, where Alice directed the Sunday School. She worked as a preschool teacher and directed nursery schools.

The marriage ended in 1970. In 1976, Alice went to London, England, where she joined a group of activists in the East End that turned an abandoned Council Estate, Matilda House, into a co-op. In the mid-1980s, Alice began spending part of each year in Toronto, living with Ron and Judith.

In 1986 she travelled with her son Fred and his wife Kowyeesa Owpaluk (now deceased) to Southampton Island in Hudson Bay to go spring camping and goose hunting with her Inuit in-laws. Alice was a frequent traveler on the bus from Toronto to Ottawa, where she lovingly assisted with raising her two grandchildren, Rosina and Leah.

In September 1995, Alice moved into the Performing Arts Lodge (PAL) at 110 The Esplanade. Thanks to the supportive environment at PAL and a wonderful neighbourhood, she was able to live independently. Her sister Rosemarie was a frequent companion, marching with her in the Labour Day parade, and putting up anti-apartheid posters. Alice celebrated her 90th birthday in the PAL Green Room, with many friends from PAL, Older Women’s Network, and the Unitarian Church.

On October 27, 2014, she suffered a hip fracture. She moved to Hamilton in the care of Ron and Judith. She was doing well at her rehab exercises, but her ongoing congestive heart condition took over in January, 2015 and she began to decline. Ron and Judith were grateful that they could help her through this final phase of her remarkable life.

Alice is predeceased by brother Joe Fritsch and sister Madeleine Joseph (Philip). She will be greatly missed by sister Rosemarie Herrell (Edgar), sons Ronald (Judith Sandiford) and Frederick (Darlene Pearson), grandchildren Rosina and Leah Weihs, and Robert Allison (grandson by choice), great grandchildren Angelika, Ralph and Jasmine, nieces and nephews Jill, Owen, Marie, Anita (Herrell), and Stephen and Nicola Joseph, and numerous grand and great-grand nieces and nephews.

Cremation has taken place. There will be a celebration of Alice’s life at Performing Arts Lodge, 110 The Esplanade, Toronto, on Sunday, April 26, 2-5 pm. In lieu of flowers, please donate to the Council of Canadians (www.canadians.org).

The Circle Unbroken

Alice Weihs at her 90th birthday party at PAL. Taken by Alla Palagina.

Alice Weihs at her 90th birthday party at PAL. Taken by Alla Palagina.

My mother Alice died last Wednesday (February 18, 2015) in the early morning. She was in my house in Hamilton, where Judith and I had been looking after her since last November. She was born on August 27, 1921, and had a full life, which she enjoyed with great gusto up to her last day.

In the last few years, she had an ongoing heart condition, aortic stenosis, which had been causing shortness of breath and dizziness. However, it didn’t prevent her from venturing forth with her walker from her apartment at Performing Arts Lodge (PAL) on The Esplanade in Toronto to the St. Lawrence Market, where many of the shop owners would greet her warmly. She lived at PAL since 1995, and was much loved by her fellow residents. Dr. Robison was two blocks away at the St. Lawrence Health Centre, and monitored her medical condition with great dedication.  Her grandson (by choice) Robert Allison visited her every week, usually for a pizza dinner.

On October 27, 2014, at 10:30 pm, she set out with her walker to get herself a hamburger. Somehow, we’re not quite sure how, she fell and broke her right hip. I got a call from St. Michael’s hospital the next morning, informing us that they were taking her to the operating room to apply a single compression hip screw. The operation was successful. She spent a week at St. Michael’s (where she received excellent care). After 10 days, she was transferred to a rehab hospital, where she was not happy. I intervened and arranged to have her brought back to St. Michael’s because the congestive heart condition had re-emerged. My brother Fred came down from Ottawa and visited her every day and encouraged her to do her leg exercises every hour.  After a week, Fred and I persuaded St. Mike’s to discharge her into my care in Hamilton, rather than back to the rehab hospital. Judith and I brought her to our house on December 1.

Alice sitting by the flowers sent by her friends at Performing Arts Lodge.

Alice sitting by the flowers sent by her friends at Performing Arts Lodge.

With the help of a physiotherapist from Community Care Access Centre (CCAC), she exercised diligently, and was making very good progress. On January 15, we took her for x-rays to St. Mike’s, and stopped in at PAL for Kaffeeklatsch,  where she was greeted with cheers. The bone was healing very well. In February, another visit to the Fracture Clinic showed the bone completely healed.

Starting the following day, however, her energy started to decline. On January 29, her cardiologist told us that the end would come soon.

We looked after her in our home, making her comfortable. CCAC provided a gentle and sympathetic nurse, who helped us understand what we were going through. Alice was sleeping more and more, but when she was awake we still had good times, singing the old union songs with her from the People’s Song Book.

Having my mother with us, and being with her during this time, was very rewarding. It wasn’t easy, but it felt very right and very rich. Judith had a special way with Alice that I loved to see. She also worked hard keeping Artword Artbar going, with the help of Tom Dusome, while I stayed home with Alice. My brother Fred and Alice’s sister Rosemarie visited and helped out.

The night she died, I held her hand and stroked her head, comforting her when she called out. At about 3:00 am, she became quiet and fell asleep. I went to bed. I thought we were near the end, but expected her to be awake the next day. Judith woke up at six with a feeling that a great quiet had descended. Alice had passed. Judith roused me and I went into the room. Yes, she was gone. She looked very beautiful.

I have included two photos in this post. The first was taken at Alice’s 90th birthday party at PAL. The second shows her on January 2, sitting in our living room beside the flowers sent by her PAL Kaffeeklatsch friends.

We’ll be having a celebration of her life at Performing Arts Lodge (PAL), 110 the Esplanade in Toronto, April 26 from 2 to 5 pm to share memories and songs.